Friday, March 6, 2009

Home at last!

It's good to be home! I was welcomed home with a sign and with balloons - thanks, Pat. Splendid! Then in the office I was welcomed with a sign and more balloons - thanks Liz. And thanks to Carolyn for treating me to bangers and mash (with onion gravy) at The Plough in St Asaph.

I shan't easily forget the places I saw, or, more importantly, the people I met, in Cameroon. I remain in touch with many of them.
The images here, from the top, are of the pattern of a local costume from North West Cameroon I was given by Godwin, and of the costume made by Mary. The bottom one needs no description!

Monday, March 2, 2009

A few photos

“Would you do it again?”

“Would you do it again?” is the question I’ve been asked more than once, when I start to tell of my experiences in Cameroon. The answer has to be, “Yes, certainly!” because, despite the challenges, this country has a lot going for it.

The opportunity to spend time in such a different culture will probably not arise again for me, and I don’t regret taking up the challenge.

What’s good about this place? Well, the food is abundant and very good on the whole, the climate is generally good, and you can soon get used to the heat.

What’s not so good? Unfortunately, the corruption has to be mentioned. Of course, there is corruption everywhere in the world, but in Cameroon, it has almost become an art form. “People are confident they won’t get caught”, a lawyer told me. The press contains stories almost every day about officials misappropriating funds, but very few are ever brought to justice.

I’m writing this in Yaoundé the capital where I’m spending a few days before flying back. It’s interesting to compare Bamenda and Yaoundé. The capital is much more developed in turns of its buildings, its roads and its businesses. I can now see why citizens of Bamenda complain about being neglected by the big cities. The differences are compounded by the language barrier or linguistic differences. As is the case in Wales, while the country is bilingual, not all its citizens are, so Yaoundé looks both privileged and foreign to Bamenda people.

I have met some extraordinary and committed people in this country, such as the volunteers for charitable organisations who do not even receive travelling expenses for their efforts. I have also met people who live in very difficult circumstances – no water or electricity, no lock on the door – who smile and take delight in simple pleasures.

Regarding religion I have met Bahais, one Buddhist and with Christians of all colours. Many of the Christians take the commitments of their faith seriously, but I have seen evidence of ‘religiosity’ too.
I had a really good meeting with the High Commissioner this morning. He gave me 45 minutes - more than I expected and after talking about my topic, we moved on to discuss place names and Celtic languages.
The pictures show Desiree who came in to see me especially on Saturday morning to give me a gift, then the market stall at Santa.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Final thoughts

My final workshop took place on Tuesday, on the topic of coaching and mentoring. There was a good take up, and every seat was full. People here have not become jaded as we are about events such as this. Indeed, people from the councils and the Civil Society Organisations took part with enthusiasm.

On Wednesday I was visited by a delegation from Bafut representing the epilepsy organisation CODEF. They were very kind, had bought a calabash of palm wine with them –and, most unexpectedly, a number of Cameroonian gifts. I really don’t think that I deserve them.

What conclusions can I draw about this vast, intriguing country after some eight weeks? I ought to say that I am fairly optimistic. This is a relatively peaceful country. Despite some disturbances a year ago, this is no powder keg ready to explode.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dicky TV and Electrical Repairs

A few more pictures of Cameroon, again. Sorry, Jayne, no lions or giraffes or elephants - although I have seen the last elephant shot in the North West.
These images are:
Parts of Rose's bar, Nkwen, Bamenda, with a gesture towards traditional construction!
Traditional hand-made bricks
A note in French from landlady Patricia warning clients of the consequences of ordering beer when they can't afford to pay for it
Dicky TV repairs.
The street outside the Dicky shop. It is wet, not after rain, but as a resault of putting their washing water out to keep down the dust.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Random thoughts

Cameroon is not the place to be if you are not fond of dusting. Dust everywhere. While I was in Bafut last Monday there was a tremendous rain shower, noisy and sudden, but Bamenda had to wait until last night (Saturday) for some rain to keep the red dust down.

Water is precious here. Some many people do not have water supplied to the house, and you see people, including children carrying ridiculously large canisters from the water taps in the street.

Thursday’s workshop went well, and the group of seventeen participants, including three from the councils took an active part in proceedings. It is interesting how groups seemingly put together at random can vary so much. The same presenter, more or less the same content, but this group was much more participative.

I’m trying at present to work out where I am against the budget for my project in Cameroon. That is easier said than done, because I’m faced with bewildering confetti of receipts and other scraps of evidence. Some traders do not give receipts, and the taxis never do. A further complication is that the sums seem huge. With 655 CFA francs to the euro at the official exchange rate, the figures soon become gigantic. I’m beginning to understand the term "creative accountancy"!

There’s something intriguing about funerals here. They are noisy affairs. The hearse has a flashing light on the top and a siren, and the vehicles following it sound their horns repeatedly, while playing loud popular music. The mourners hang out of the windows of their vehicles, shouting greetings to passers-by.
Sorry, no image of a noisy funeral, only of group-work and collecting water.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


On Monday I accompanied Kenneth, a representative of a Civil Society Organisation called CODEF on a visit to two people with epilepsy at Bafut. The first, Elizabeth, was sitting outside looking lifeless. She was wearing nothing on her top, and she had a recent, seemingly untreated burn wound on her right arm and shoulder. She had apparently had no medical treatment after falling in the fire, while having a fit, as she had on previous occasions. She had fallen into the open wood fire which is in the centre of the room, on this occasion when her widowed mother was out working in the fields.

The second epilepsy sufferer I visited was Evon, a young mother with twins of a year old. Sadly, she has not breastfed them, on advice from her mother, who fears that the epilepsy will be transmitted to the infants through their mother's milk. As a result the children are clearly malnourished.

I also had the opportunity of meeting a team of volunteers in the Bafut area, including the Deputy Mayor of Bafut, who have taken part in a survey of epilepsy in the region, recording some thousand names. The volunteers visit both the sufferers and their carers. Frequently people with epilepsy are socially isolated, and there , I'm sorry to say, a popular opinion that their health condition is caused by evil spirits. CODEF is trying to overcome this perception.
Epilepsy is not seen as a priority here, in the way that HIV / AIDS is. There is simply no provision. Even where drugs are prescribed (the only such drug seems to be phenobarbitone), they are not taken, because of the high costs, particularly in this poor area, which relies on subsistence farming.

You'll gather that I have been much moved by what I have seen and heard, and I am determined to do what I can on the personal level. so that the work of CODEF can continue and be expanded. A small sum goes a long way in an area like this.
On a lighter note I'll attach some recent images!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The end is nigh!

My eight weeks and five days here are running out at great speed. The end is nigh!

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’ve met many interesting people during my time in Cameroon. These include Africans and non-Africans. I’ve been particularly impressed by two Austrian ladies, Gerda Themel and Bettina Leidl, whose small organisation Women's Cooperation International is making an important contribution to the education and training of girls and women. You can see something about that organisation (in German) at

Here are a couple of paragraphs about them.

"Poverty is female - in the rich industrial nations, but particularly in the poor countries in the world. According to experts' estimations more than one billion people live in poverty, 70% of them are women.

We at "Women's Cooperation International" think that "if we are so well-off in the rich countries, why don't we try to give some of it to others...? Why don't we try to strengthen women in the so-called Third World?" The principle is help towards self-help. In Sri Lanka it began in 2004... and it is continuing. In terms of international women's solidarity for the women in distant countries who are not so well-off."

I’ve been able to see first-hand some of the results of their practical interventions in the Bali area. They don’t give money, but after consultation with the women themselves, they do pay, for example, for adult literacy and numeracy classes, and for exercise books and pens, and for equipment needed by the women for their subsistence farming. Their work is really practical and inspiring.

It was with Gerda and Bettina that I went back to both Mankon and Bafut. Going back to a place previously visited after a gap of a few weeks was worth doing. Firstly, we were able to meet the Fon in Mankom – he had not been there on the previous occasion. the Fon boasted of having met the Queen ...

The pictures here, from top to bottom, show:

  • Bettina (left) and Gerda (right) with the Fon
  • The Fon on his throne
  • The Fon (left) and me
  • A live, squawking chicken being auctioned at Mount Carmel

Friday, February 13, 2009

Youth Day

Wednesday was Youth Day here, the 43rd such annual event. I went north-east from Bamenda to Babungi, passing through Ndop (which does not mean “No Development or Progress” despite what some wag said). An amazing part of the day was a visit to the annual parade for Youth Day in Ndop. Readers in Wales might like to think of it as a combination between the Urdd Eisteddfod and a county sports event. Young people from four to eighteen marched in their school uniform into the arena in front of the local dignitaries, while judges with notepads, looking just like the judges at a small eisteddfod in Wales, gave them marks – for smartness, marching in time and so on. It was a bit too militaristic for my taste, but the children and their beaming parents and grandparents seemed to enjoy it.

Then on to the Fon’s palace at Babungo. I’m becoming quite an expert on the Fons of north-west Cameroon – I think I could answer some Mastermind specialist questions on the topic! I met some of the Fon’s wives. “There are too many (wives) to count”, said one of his younger ones.

On Friday I held another workshop on the Management of Change, this time for long-term volunteers, from Australia, Canada, India, the Philippines and Uganda as well as two local people. It was like a miniature United Nations Assembly.

The pictures here, from top to bottom, show:
  • Pigs at the Fon's palace in Babungo
  • One of the Fon's wives
  • Muslim pupils
  • Trying to win the big prize - a bottle of coca cola
  • Boy pupils prepare to march
  • The latest workshop. It's a challenge to present to such a multi-national group. Note that the Welsh flag has pride of place!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An African Market

The market in Bali is a fascinating place. People come from their small farms to sell all kinds of things, including strange looking fruit, strange looking tomatoes, ginger, innumerable spices whose names are unknown to me, together with ... second hand clothes, clearly from Europe. There was a huge pile of sports socks which had clearly not been washed. People at the market were very friendly, and didn’t mind having their photos taken.

On Tuesday evening, thanks to a chance meeting, I was invited to dinner with an American family a couple of miles from Bamenda. The husband works for an educational and linguistic organisation called SIL. I remember it as the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Chris told me about the Kom Education Pilot Project, KEP, in which there is strong evidence that teaching through the mother tongue (Kom in this case) gives much better results than teaching in English. There is some information on

The following results are very interesting for the Welsh context:
• The top two schools were mother tongue schools
• 6 of the top 7 schools were mother tongue schools
• 5 of the lowest 6 performing schools were English medium
• Mother tongue schools outperformed English-medium schools by 23.3 points.
From the same report: “These differences are statistically significant, supporting the hypothesis that mother tongue education does indeed have long-term educational benefits”.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bali, Bafut and beyond

On Saturday I tried to get to Bali because there was talk of a music festival there. Not understanding how to get there, I failed, and spent a lazy day on the compound. On Sunday, after visiting the nearby Nkwen Baptist Church (about 600 people present and two choirs) I was pleased to meet two ladies from Vienna, Gerda and Bettina who were in the area to visit a project their organisation had been sponsoring – in Bali.

They had a local driver who had brought them from Yaounde, and thus it was that I was offered a ride to visit the Bali Women’s Union of Farming Groups (BAWUFAG). This group of women was being funded by the Viennese ladies who wanted to check that it really exists. Clearly it does, and funding will continue for literacy and numeracy for knitting and crotcheting classes and more. They women sang to us visitors, “Women are building a nation here” and songs in the Mungaka language before we left.

We went on with local people from the project to an audience with the local traditional ruler, the Fon of Bali. The Fon had lived and studied in Germany, so he spoke German fluently. He spoke German to me and the Austrian ladies. Indeed the entire audience took place bilingually in German and Mungaka. Protocol tips to anyone intending to visit a Fon. Don’t cross your legs in his presence, don’t try to shake his hand; instead greet him with a slow rhythmic clap.

I’ve made a few more visits to a range of organisations to discuss mentoring and coaching issues. A visit with my colleagues Eric and Paul along dirt roads to a youth organisation in Bafut was a particularly stimulating one. They offered us lunch, and for the first time I ate – and enjoyed – yam in pepper soup.
The pictures are of:
Interior of the Fon's palace
A local butterfly - I know I won't win any prizes for wildlife photography!
Artwork on a wall at Nkwen
The Baptist Church at Nkwen

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bits and pieces

I’ve been thinking about race and racism lately. Although there are a number of white people in the Bamenda area, it still often happens that I am the only white person in a meeting or the only white person in a street. As Joseph Harker said: "Some "non-racists" like to pretend that racial differences don't exist - they even proudly claim not to notice skin colour. This is manifest nonsense. Purporting to be "colour blind" is as ludicrous as suggesting you wouldn't notice a person's gender. What's important is what you do, not what you see." Yes, I do stand out. However, I haven’t been abused racially at all. The occasional child has said “Hey, white man”, acknowledging the self-evident fact that my skin colour is different to theirs. And I have been asked to pay ‘white man’s prices’ from time to time, because being white is seen as being automatically rich. Nevertheless I have had some small insight into what a black, Asian or Chinese person might feel in a North Wales town.

Last night I dreamed of ... sausage and mash. Thanks to Steve for putting that thought into my mind. It just won’t leave me now. I’ve also been thinking of cereal with fresh milk, of angel delight and ice cream. There are plenty of good foods here, but sometimes one longs for the taste of the familiar. On Friday I bought a pack of digestive biscuits, in a bilingual Arabic and English box, and manufactured in Dubai. They really are delicious.

On three occasions today people have approached me, started up a conversation, then asked for money. Tonight while I was eating at Sam’s just near the Baptist centre, a lady of, perhaps, fifty, came in and sat at my table. She told me her story then asked for money to buy water. As it happened I had 200 francs in small change in my pocket, then nothing but a huge note. She accepted the contribution and left. How should I react? Suggestions, please!
A couple of random images:
1. Children lining up to go into school
2. The seeds of the palm tree

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I am working here!

I haven’t reported much on work issues, so I’ll record something to show I’m not a tourist here. Last Friday I gave a presentation to the AGM of NWADO (North West Association of Development Associations). I talked about the use of management standards (which they can find on the net if and when they have an internet connection). Then I went on to talk about the Investors in People framework as a tool for managing change and for self-assessment. It seemed to go down well – but maybe they were being polite.

On Monday I held a full day of training on the management of change, with thirteen representatives of the leading Civil Society Organisations. The content focussed on both change within organisations and in the wider society. The biggest such change on the horizon is decentralisation, although the government in Yaoundé seems to be dragging its feet. The feedback sheets were positive and will help me in delivering the same workshop again, but with some changes. I'm putting together a pack for trainers on the management of change to leave behind me.

Oh, yes, Cameroonian time. There is a local tendency here to be very, very, flexible about timing. The bus bringing me from Douala was scheduled to leave at 9,00 am but in fact left at 11.30 am. The training session on Monday was meant to start at 10.00 am but started half an hour late. Participants, like some bus travellers assume that things will start late.

A young woman was taking her pet monkey for a walk at the Baptist compound yesterday. The monkey seemed to be well cared for.

The frequent power cuts here can be annoying, to say the least. There was sudden darkness several times yesterday evening. Access to the internet is also patchy. Finally the quality of the telephone network is less than ideal, with calls being cut off sometimes, and the sound quality being less than ideal at all times. Local people put up with all of this with few complaints.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I am dreaming of the mountains of my home

I’ve been thinking about a song which Stan Roberts has performed at concerts. It’s called, I think, “My little Welsh home”. It starts, “I am dreaming of the mountains of my home.
Of the mountains where in childhood I would roam. I have dwelt 'neath southern skies.
Where the summer never dies, But my heart lies in the mountains of my home”
The summer never dies here. Indeed, it’s strange to be in a country without what we know as seasons. Another hot day (31 degrees) here today.

Late on Friday I took the night bus to the fleshpots of Douala in order to ... attend the AGM of the Cameroon Esperanto Association. The meeting was held entirely in that language, and a new chairman and committee were elected. The meeting opened with a lusty rendering of the Esperanto hymn “La Espero”, a practice which has faded away a little in Europe. After the meeting we went to have a drink, and the disagreements of the AGM were forgotten, as people laughed and joked in the sunshine.

As usual, my hosts Victor and Dhome were kind and attentive – maybe too kind, because I was taken to a nightclub until 3pm on Sunday morning, having had no sleep since I got up on Friday morning.

The pictures show Victor Nto Nto, new President of the Esperanto Association of Cameroon and some of those who attended. And I can't help adding one of two children playing in the street in Douala. They do have shoes, but chose not to wear them.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Local music and local food

On Friday when I was being shown the local trees by Penny, I heard the distant sound of singing floating over the landscape. It was coming from the Presbyterian church in Ngyen-Mbo. We went down to the source of the singing, a sturdy church hall belonging to the Presbyterians.
There local people (mostly women but some men) had gathered in this building with no windows, no piano and no electricity to learn some items for a singing festival. The song or hymn they were singing was in the local Bali language called Mungaka. No one was using paper or sheet music. (In fact the literacy rate for this language is fairly low. It is very much the language of the heart and hearth, and used within the community.) The conductor presented the four parts himself, teaching words and tune at the same time. I was witnessing “note bashing”, that very first introduction to a piece. He sang, then the people with that voice followed on copying him – sometimes an octave higher. I’d like to see Trystan practice this technique with the Conwy Valley Mixed Choir or with Cor Meibion Maelgwn. It worked! The singers were used to this approach, and they responded positively. The sound was breath-takingly good. They were very disciplined too, in focusing on the task in hand. Penny and I applauded them, then on a whim, I sang them Calon Lan as a solo (no sniggering there!) and they were polite enough to applaud. One lady just in front of me was even picking up the melody and humming along.

Then we went on to a wake in the village at the house of a highly respected local man who was interested in the betterment of his community and had recently passed away. Badges showing an image of the dear departed were sold to raise money for the food – traditional African food. In the back yard women were preparing and cooking all sorts of ingredients. This was clearly a cheerful, co-operative activity, and although this was a wake, there was much merriment. Coco-yams were being pounded in a wooden trough-like mortar. The resultant white mixture is wrapped in palm leaves, then cooked. The result is a sort of gelatinous mashed potato-like substance which served with njama njama, made from huckleberry leaves, palm oil tomatoes, and onions. Women were preparing fish – the head is the best bit - while men chopped wood for the fires. Oh, and I had my first taste of palm wine - and I can't remember much after that.
Pictures show the brother of the deceased, the teamwork preparing food and the choir.